It’s like being 5 years old again where the only criteria for friendship come down to: “you like goldfish crackers? Me too! Lets be best friends!” Traveling with 400 fellow Los Angeles Jews to Israel for the Greater Los Angeles Jewish Federation Centennial mission, bonding is boiled down to “You’re on the Young adult bus too? Great! Let’s be friends!” We commiserate in the plane aisles during the 14-hour flight, stretching sore limbs and rubbing sleep-deprived eyes. But despite the fact that we arrived as strangers at LAX, by the time we’re in the air, I’ve found a circle of friends, a community, as we share this journey to Israel.
We’re a blend of seasoned travelers and, like me, Israel virgins who are waiting to see what the magic everyone speaks of when discussing Israel is all about. The Check-in agent grills me: How long am I traveling for? With whom? Why am I going? What’s the purpose of my trip? Answers like “touring with the Federation” don’t seem to cut it, so I give the only answer I have, the real answer to why I’m embarking on this trip for the first time at aged 31. “What’s the purpose of the trip? To fall in love with Israel.”
But despite my answer, I’m not feeling the expected excitement. I’m still stuck in pre-travel anxiety ranging from the long flight, the change in routine, and the worry about leaving my puppy behind. I kibbutz with new friends through the security line and waiting at the gate, but as I’m about the board, I lose my footing and instead make an emergency call to my mom in tears. “Mom, I’m freaking out. Tell me again why I want to go…” And my mother, who knows me better than any other, reminds me of what I already know. I’m going because I’ve been waiting to see Israel for 15 years, because its going to be the experience of a lifetime, because I’ll be fine once I’m there, and because, according to her, it’s the only place where it’s easy to be comfortable in your own skin. Because it’s the comfort of home despite being a strange land. She promises I’ll return begging for another trip back.
The wheels just touched down and I look over this homeland, this fought-over soil, this treasured history. I catch a glimpse of Israeli magic and I hope she’s right.